Best Practices for Your Mobility Policies Practical Policy Issues: Best Practices By Vince Cordova, Mercer Effective global mobility management is about creating added value through mobility strategies that support your business. In order to be relevant and successful it is key that these mobility policies align closely with their prevailing business and talent imperatives. Nevertheless, the policies must also be able to deliver consistent (and fair) results for comparable assignment situations. Of course, there are always barriers to mobility that must be lifted for your talent strategies to go above and beyond. Fortunately, the latest edition of Mercer’s Worldwide Survey of International Assignments Policies Practices provides excellent and extensive insights into how mobile workforces are changing around the world, as well as policy options companies are using to manage their globally mobile employee, how global HR professionals are adapting their benefits to accommodate changing workforce expectations, and much more. Here, you’ll find an exclusive, in-depth overview of many of the key findings from this globe-spanning research, which will ultimately allow you to implement more practical policies and mobility solutions for your constantly changing global workforce. But first, it’s important that you understand what the key barriers to your mobility management policies are, and how to address them. Key Barriers to Mobility Management Findings from Mercer’s latest edition of Worldwide Survey of International Assignments Policies & Practices show that some obstacles to talent mobility are decreasing. The biggest obstacles for organizations remain: Dual career/family-related issues amongst employees. Current conditions being too costly. Troubles with identifying the right candidates for the right jobs. Difficulty with sending expat employees to certain hardship and/or remote locations. Miscellaneous career management issues amongst employees. Even though there were similar key barriers listed amongst most European and North American participants, the numbers/percentages for each particular barrier varied quite drastically between the two continents. These disparities show that different organizations will have to prioritize which barriers to address first depending on factors such as geographic location, as well as company culture, prevailing business objectives, and so on – all of which are also strongly related to the cultural and geographic differences amongst employees and their home and host locations. Addressing Those Mobility Barriers: One Size Doesn’t Fit All! Due to the varying assortment of barriers from one geographic location to another, a best practice is to create a suite of unique, tailored policies that align with your distinctive company culture (and make sure it aligns with your overriding business visions and company values, as well). It’s also important to make sure your policies are appropriate for whatever stage of international expansion your organization is currently in. Too often, global HR professionals assume they have a solid mobility policy in place so they’re automatically doing the “right thing.” In truth, the “right thing” in regards to policies and practices always depends on not only your company culture, but also on what level of international expansion you’re in. For example, if a company is still in the early stages of global expansion, then they’re likely just now starting to send out expats: as a result, the “right policies and practices” for them will be drastically different from the “right policies and practices” for an experienced worldwide company with a well-established global workforce. Here, you’ll find an overview of the general needs of different organizations based on the what stage of global expansion they’re in. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of why policy needs can fluctuate so dramatically based on what global expansion phase a company is in: Phase 1: Early Overseas Operations: Typically, this phase will involve creating an international assignment policy based on individual negotiations with HQ. The goal here, from a management perspective, is to find employees who can be trusted to get the job done despite an insignificant number of expats to start with. As a result, many of the company’s HQ nationals will have to serve as the expatriates for the time being. Phase 2: Few Overseas Operations: During this phase, expats will still mostly be HQ nationals, but with a few third-country nationals slowly added into the mix. Assignment policies during this stage will typically be a home-country balance sheet for the HQ expatriates, and there will be an HQ-centric focus in terms of policy implementation. Management will increasingly grow to understand that talent mobility is something that needs to be done in order to achieve international growth. Phase 3: Growing International Maturity: At this stage, assignments will include company HQ nationals blended with third-country nationals and foreign local hires or local to local transfers. Assignment policies will have to include some degree of flexibility or segmentation to accommodate the different assignment types, and a global policy framework might even be implemented to streamline things. The mobility management team will become increasingly concerned about costs and will likely begin to invest significant time and resources into finding quicker, more cost-efficient and effective mobility solutions for developing global perspectives and talent. Phase 4: Worldwide Integration and Planning: At this stage, there should be a well-established global sourcing of talent and a greatly decreased emphasis on nationality. Assignment policies should include full segmentation that supports varying international assignment patterns. Meanwhile, international HR management should now approach mobility through the lens of global talent sourcing, and the ultimate goal for companies in regards to their talent mobility is to maximize ROI for the firm. Keep in mind that this should only serve as a general outline of the typical international expansion cycle, but it certainly doesn’t account for all organizations everywhere. Often, even companies at the exact same stage of international expansion will have vastly different needs. Again, this is because every organization is unique in regards to its culture, visions, and values, and that often leads to very different pictures of what the “right” policies are. Also, remember that these are just general guidelines to serve as a starting point for international expansion policy planning and implementation, but there is no single approach to managing all global workforces. Instead, you must tailor each policy and practice you implement to your specific assignment needs and business goals. Translating Business Strategies into People Strategies After aligning your business vision and current stage of international expansion, you’ll need to translate those policies into a people-focused strategy that makes the best use of your global workforce. You can start this process by establishing the duty of care owed to international assignees and transfers, identifying ongoing demands amongst your current talent supply, assessing any talent implications, fostering critical skills, and perhaps most importantly, filling any talent demand gaps that are hindering further expansion Throughout this this process it is important to ensure you keep the balance between 3 pillars – and ensure that you move at the same pace on these 3 items: 1st pillar – what you are willing to do to keep the link between the policy goal and your company culture, employee value proposition, and your current talent and mobility strategies. 2nd pillar – what you should do to ensure you have the right level of mobility expertise, benchmarking, techniques, and so on. Consider the employee experience as well, as an international assignment should be positive and minimally disruptive to the employee and their family. 3rd pillar – what you can do in term of technological and people capabilities. This stage is particularly critical because regardless of what you choose or are willing to do, you still need to ensure that you have the technological support, resources, and people capabilities to carry these tasks out. Carrying on with the technological aspect of turning business strategies into people strategies, Mercer’s research found that a striking 60% of surveyed companies worldwide said they don’t have any specific talent management or policy implementation tools and are still limited to Excel and Word. Meanwhile, 22% of surveyed organizations said they use outside vendor software, but only 13% said they have developed an in-house application to assist with this. Needless to say, there’s a lotof potential here for you to use technology to provide your workforce with the diverse new benefits they’re demanding, but understanding the current mobility and policy trends can also offer some great insights. Global Mobility Policy Trends It’s always advantageous to have an understanding of what your competitors are doing, as well as what today’s mobile employees are demanding as far as key benefits and perks. To help you gain this advantage, check out the following findings from Mercer’s research regarding what global workforce trends have been taking place throughout the past several years: Talent mobility has become more diverse and complex over time due to the increased availability of international employees, more assignment locations, and a wider variety of assignment types such as permanent, locally hired foreigners, commuters, extended business travelers, and developmental assignments. Global HR professionals are also diversifying their remuneration approaches, but most are still driven by assignment length. While the home balance sheet approach is by far the most prevalent compensation type for typical long-term assignees, more than half of respondents have employees on Local or Local Plus conditions as well for certain assignment types. Talent management and global mobility efforts are becoming more integrated. This involves an increased focus on recruitment and retention strategies, identifying skill gaps, engaging with key stakeholders, and pulling in the same direction. In other words, mobility is becoming seen more and more as a strategic necessity for talent management. Policy approaches are becoming increasingly flexible, and this most certainly ties into the fact that costs and dual careers were listed as two of the most prominent obstacles to modern employee mobility. To help overcome these obstacles, there’s been a much greater focus on creating policy framework that responds to new business needs and evolving workforce expectations, such as greater employee choice and the integration of mobility as part of a holistic global benefits design approach. While all of these trends are important and worth considering in your international HR management planning, increased flexibility will arguably remain most important, and that’s because of the generational workforce shifts taking place. With these shifts come increasingly diverse expectations to be managed, lest you lose valuable talent to your competitors. After all, less flexibility will mean less alternatives and, subsequently, less personal choice for employees—not a particularly appealing career prospect. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, providing too much flexibility could potentially lead to greater administrative complexity, compliance risk, strain, and even costs. Because of this dichotomy, there are many companies who are wanting to take on a more flexible approach, but are hesitant to do so because of the potential compliance issues and risks. If you’re able to strategically assess the scope of the flexibility you want (or need) to provide, you will be able to better achieve an appropriate balance between “too much” and “too little” in regards to your flexibility policies. For example, think of this issue in terms of “flexibility brackets” consisting of (1) core/non-negotiable/mandatory policies, (2) flexible/negotiable policies, and (3) strictly out-of-scope/non-implementable policies. These flexibility brackets could be different for / adapted to each of your international assignment policies, whether they be permanent transfers, local plus, short-term assignments, and so on and so forth. It might take some time to structure out brackets for each and every assignment type you have, but doing so will help assure that all your employees have a fair, predefined level of flexibility that’s attractive but also reasonable. But Wait…That’s Not All! Despite the huge array of policy best practices that have been discussed, there are still many other considerations to keep in mind as you go about your globally mobile workforce management. For example, it will definitely help you to understand your company practices positioning with regards to your competitors policies and practices so you can more effectively manage your program, but also budget and plan from a financial standpoint. However, either way, keeping your prevailing business needs top of mind or reflecting them through your mobility processes helps you take that critical first step towards managing a globally mobile workforce more efficiently. At the same time, you’re also making the constituents of that globally mobile workforce happier at the jobs they do all across the world. Just remember to consistently evaluate your policies, monitor and manage employee expectations, evaluate your ROI data, keep your stakeholders engaged, and review results so you can propose policy changes when you feel they are necessary.